Top 6 Most Recommended Road Bike Pedals

Published on 05/13/2023 · 9 min readCycling Expert Jared Fontaine explains everything you'd need to know about road bike pedals and lists the 6 most top recommend road bike pedals on the market!
Jared Fontaine, Cycling Expert
By Cycling Expert Jared Fontaine

Road bike Montenegro Look Plus cleats. Photo by Jared Fontaine

You just bought your beautiful new road bike, and along with your road bike, you have lights, a helmet, bike shorts, and a jersey, but you notice that there is a crucial component missing: pedals! How are you supposed to ride a bike without pedals? Most high-end road and mountain bikes are also stocked without pedals. Most customers I have helped on Curated are shocked that a $10,000 bike does not have pedals. In this article, I will share with you the most recommended road bike pedals.

Benefits of Using Clipless Road Pedals

Beginner road cyclists and some touring cyclists will use a flat pedal, however, the majority of road cyclists will use a clipless road or mountain pedal. When a road cyclist clips in, they have more power and control over the bike. In addition, since their foot is mechanically attached to the bike, it is unlikely to slip off the pedals and hit the ground. Maintaining control is crucial if you descend at 40 mph, sprint, or hit the rough tarmac.

Clipless pedals allow riders to pedal in "circles," so the rider can produce more power in every phase of the pedal stroke, for example, by dragging the foot when the foot is in the 6 o'clock position. In addition, pedaling in "circles" helps when cyclists ride out of the saddle or stand. Since your feet will not fly off the pedals, you can concentrate on dropping your weight on the pedals by leaning back towards the bike’s rear so that your legs can slightly touch the saddle.

Riders can also pull up on the handlebar, the same side as the downstroke, for more power. This technique is excellent when you are sprinting for the county line or climbing on 10% plus gradients when you need as much energy as possible to get the bike moving forward.

1. LOOK Keo Classic 3 Plus Pedals · Black · 9/16

LOOK invented the clipless pedal in 1984. They became famous when Bernard Hinault, the favorite French five-time winner of the Tour de France, won his final Tour de France in 1985 using the pedals. The year Greg Lemond, the only official American to win the Tour de France, used the pedals to victory.

For the beginner road cyclist, the LOOK Keo Classic 3 is a great pedal to get into road cycling. The pedal has a wider base of 400 mm2 which is around 40% larger for better power transfer and more confident handling.

Look Keo Pedal. Photos by Jared Fontaine

As with all LOOK pedals, these will accommodate the three cleats choices available. The three different colors of cleats represent the three different levels of float. Black cleats have 0 degrees of float, grey cleats have 4.5 degrees, and red has 6 degrees of float. Float is the amount of movement the foot is allowed to move before the pedal releases the foot. In short, float takes the pressure off the knees by allowing the body to compensate. Although you are losing some power, your knees will thank you in the end. All LOOK pedals ship with grey cleats. If you have knee problems, riding with red cleats may help; however, getting a professional fit and proper gradual training is the best way to relieve pain.

The grey LOOK cleat with 4.5 degrees of float. Photos by Jared Fontaine

This model is an excellent option for beginners since riders can adjust 8nm to 12nm of the spring tension needed to release the cleat. Having a lower spring tension is best for newer riders not used to riding clipless pedals. Then they can release the tension of the spring with an Allen key once riders understand the clipless technique.

2. Shimano PD-EH500 SPD pedal

For recreational road cyclists, bikepackers, or commuters using a road bike or a hybrid bike, the Shimano PD-EH500 is the perfect pedal. The pedal uses Shimano's SPD (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics) mountain-bike-style pedal and cleat, as mountain bike pedals are easier for beginners to get used to riding clipless. Mountain bike pedals are designed to shed mud, snow, and dirt better than road pedals dedicated to power transfer and weight.

Unlike road pedals, the cleats are recessed into the bottom of the shoe, making walking easier for riders. Also, some mountain and road bike touring shoes have nylon soles that offer more flexibility and enable riders to walk more efficiently.

Shoes like the Shimano SH-MT301 are great for commuters and bike tours since they look and feel like regular shoes, and one can easily walk around with them and still benefit from clipless pedal technology. Dedicated road pedals have slick full carbon soles with little grip for maximizing power transfer and low weight. However, road pedals are not designed for walking and can be challenging to get used to.

Shimano SPD grey mountain bike cleats have multiple angles of release, unlike road pedals which are lateral release only. So a rider using this pedal and grey cleat combination can twist their foot in any direction to release the pedal, and this can help new riders get used to being clipped in. The tension springs are also lighter, so it is easier to get their foot out. Since this pedal is clipless on one side and flat on the other, recreational riders and commuters looking to ride clipless on longer leisure ride on the weekend can do this while using their work shoes to commute to work on the weekdays.

The pedals also come with pins on the bottom to hold your shoe firmly to the pedal. These are safer than toe clips which you can get your foot caught on when stopping. The President of the United States fell off his bike partly because his foot was caught in the toe strap.

3. Shimano Deore XT PD-M8100 SPD

For all-road/gravel cyclists and new road cyclists, a mountain bike pedal is best for the same mud shedding and walkability as the Shimano PD-EH500 pedal, with added benefits such as lighter weight and higher spring tension. The Deore XT pedals are built for the more competitive cyclist looking for lighter weight and more power transfer. Also, like all dedicated mtb (mountain bike) pedals, you can clip into both sides of the pedal.

Gravel bike with mountain bike pedals. Photo by Jared Fontaine

Even though this Shimano Deore XT pedal is lighter and more performance orientated, the pedal is great for beginners. Dual-sided clipless is also easier for new riders to get used to clipless pedals as riders will not have to worry if the pedal is clipless side up. Most road pedals are clipless on one side and have nothing on the other for weight and aerodynamic savings. These were my first clipless pedals, and I attached them to my hybrid bike for more power on the bike trail.

Mountain bike pedals. Photo by Jared Fontaine

These pedals are great for all-road and gravel riders since they need pedals that shed mud but need lighter weight and better power transfer. For the ultimate competitive option for all-road or gravel riders, you can upgrade to the 310-gram Shimano XTR PD-M9100 Race SPD Pedal.

4. LOOK Keo Blade Carbon Pedal

The Keo Blade carbon is LOOK's lightest and most aerodynamic pedal. The Blade replaces the spring for tension with a carbon sheet under the pedal to save weight and reduces maintenance. The Keo Chromoly pedals come in at 119 grams, and the titanium versions weigh 90 grams compared to the 300-plus gram LOOK Keo Plus pedals. Since these pedals are for the elite cyclist, you can't adjust the tension without replacing the blades. There are three different blades with 12, 16, and 20nm of tension. The pedal body is 700 sq. mm compared to the Keo Plus's 400 sq. mm. The larger surface area increases power transfer and stability, and LOOK claims it has the highest power transfer to weight in the industry.

5. Shimano Ultegra PD-R8000 SPD-SL

The Ultegra R8000 pedal is Shimano's road answer to LOOK's Keo road range—the pedal is slotted just below Shimano's top-end Dura-Ace Pedals in Shimano’s hierarchy of pedals. The cleats screw into the sole of any three-hole road shoe; however, the cleats are not compatible with LOOK cleats even though they look the same. The carbon composite body keeps the weight down to 317 grams. Tension adjustment is similar to the LOOK Keo Plus. Riders use an Allen key to adjust the tension mechanism. The amount of float is adjustable by changing color coordinated cleats; red is 0 degrees of float, blue is 2, and yellow is 6, which comes stock with the Ultegra pedals. Unlike LOOK pedals, all SPD-SL pedals have a tension adjustment mechanism. The axle is stainless steel, and a 4mm longer spindle is available for a wider Q-Factor (distance between the pedals).

A few years ago, the bike trainer, power meter, and bike computer company Wahoo acquired the American company Speedplay. Now, they have released a new dual-sided power meter pedal. The Wahoo Powrlink pedals are modeled after the Speedplay Zero pedals. Power meters are one of the best upgrades a cyclist can get to increase power, endurance, speed, and overall fitness. You can read my article on best cycling upgrades, where I dive into the details of power meters and how they can improve your cycling.

Speedplay pedals are the only dual-sided road pedals, making them the easiest to clip in. They also have the most extensive range of from 0 to 15 degrees of float, so if riders are more concerned with knee problems, the Speedplay pedals can provide relief.

Unlike other power meters that measure power on the rear hub or cranks, the Powrlink Zero Speedplay pedals measure power at the pedal, making changing power meters among bikes much more straightforward. Installing the power pedals is the same as installing any other Wahoo Speedplay pedal.

In Conclusion

Buying the right pedals is like choosing the right wine for a meal. It can make or break it. For example, if you are worried about clipless pedals, you can get the Shimano PD-EH500 SPD pedals to feel more confident while riding and can ride with regular flat pedals. On the other hand, if you want to ride gravel or enjoy a lighter pedal, you can choose the Shimano Deore XT PD-M8100 SPD mountain bike pedal.

If you are looking for a competitive advantage and are used to clipless pedals, then the LOOK Keo Blade Carbon and the Wahoo Powrlink Zero Dual-Sided (Speedplay) pedals are best for riders looking for performance and serious training with power. To explore more Cycling articles as you pursue your journey in the sport, check out the Expert Journal here on Curated.

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Shop Cycling on Curated

Look Keo Classic 3 Plus Bike Pedals
Shimano PD-EH500 SPD Light Action Pedal w/Cleat S-SH56
Shimano Deore XT PD-M8100 SPD with Cleats Bike Pedals

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